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Historic England Research Records

Monument Number 35762

Hob Uid: 35762
Location :
Somerset
Somerset West and Taunton
Withypool and Hawkridge
Grid Ref : SS8678032110
Summary : A 55 metre long stone clapper bridge over the River Barle. It is constructed from rectangular sandstone slabs, with 17 spans supported on stone piers raised about 1 metre above the river bed. Previously thought to date from the prehistoric period, recent research suggests that it is in fact more likely to be medieval.
More information : [SS 86783211] Tarr Steps (NR) (1)

Tarr Steps Bridge, one of the earliest examples of a stone bridge constructed before the use of the arch became known. It consists of 17 spans, the covering stones being laid flat without mortar or cement on pillars of rough stone placed upon the river bed. The pillars are 4 to 6ft apart and about 3 to 4ft high. Most are spanned by one stone only, the slabs varing from 6 to 8ft long, although one is over 10ft long. The origin of the name is not known. (2)

Scheduled. (3)

The middle section of the bridge was carried away by floods in the winter of 1941-2 it was fully restored by Somer Arch Soc and Royal Engineers in 1952, but was again destroyed by floods in August of the same year. The stones were recovered and the bridge was again reconstructed by Royal Engineers. (4)

The reconstruction of the bridge is complete and apparently authentic. (See GP AO/65/184/7). (5)

21/23 Tarr Steps (partly in Withypool Parish) Grade 1.
An impressive stone 'clapper' bridge of an unknown origin. Spans the river Barle. Length 180ft including paved approaches, width 5ft, the piers extending beyond the pathway 5ft on either side. There are 17 openings, the widest in the middle. The horizontal slabs have an average length of 7ft the longest being 8.5ft; there is no mortar or cement. Ancient Monument. Restored following 1952 flood damage. (6)

Additional Bibliography. (7 - 10)

Tarr Steps. Grade I. (11)

`Tarr Steps' is a 55m long clapper bridge spanning the River Barle at SS 86783211. It is constructed from large slabs of roughly hewn local gritstone originating from Pickwell Down (12) which average 2m-2.9m long, 1m-1.6m wide, and 0.2m-0.3m deep. There are 17 spans of which 12 are single stones, 4 are paired and one is three stones. The slabs rest upon piers which are arranged at about 2m intervals. The piers are constructed from blocks of stone, each about 2.2m long, 0.7m wide, and 0.7m thick. Against the sides of each pier rest at least one and often up to three slabs which appear to be functional: helping to prevent damage to the piers on the upstream side and support for the bridge on the downstream side. However, these slabs are probably later additions to the monument. The date of the bridge is a matter of debate. A prehistoric date has been suggested in the past for two reasons. Firstly, it is believed to be a point where a number of supposed prehistoric tracks converge (13), but this only indicates a possible date for the site and not necessarily the bridge which could be a formalisation of something much earlier. Secondly, it has beed dated by the place-name association of "Tarr" with the Celtic "Tochar" or "Toher" meaning "causeway (across water)", although this evidence is unsubstantiated (12).
The 1279 perambulation of the moor crossed the River Barle at Three Waters about a mile to the south of Tarr Steps which suggests that there was not a bridge here at that date (14).
It has been suggested that clapper bridges replaced stepping stones which were rendered useless in times of high water. Worth speculates that clapper bridges on Dartmoor do not date before about AD 1400 (15).

Tarr Steps has been damaged on several occasions by high waters, most notably in 1948 and 1952 (4) but now a debris arresting cable has been positioned upstream of the bridge (16). However, this type of damage is probably a recent phenomenon reflecting the efficiency of drainage on the moor which increases the volume of water entering rivers, rather than something which would have happened in the past. (12-17)

Scheduling amendment. (18)

Sources :
Source Number : 1
Source : Ordnance Survey Map (Scale / Date)
Source details : OS 6" 1962
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Source Number : 2
Source : VIRTUAL CATALOGUE ENTRY TO SUPPORT NAR MIGRATION
Source details : Guide to Tarr Steps Exmoor 1928 (H D S Sweetapple - Horlock)
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Source Number : 11
Source : List of Buildings of Special Architectural or Historic Interest
Source details : DOE (HHR) District of West Somerset Aug 1986 35
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Source Number : 12
Source : The archaeology of Exmoor : Bideford Bay to Bridgwater
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Source Number : 13
Source : VIRTUAL CATALOGUE ENTRY TO SUPPORT NAR MIGRATION
Source details : Burton RA, 1993 The Heritage of Exmoor, Tiverton
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Source Number : 14
Source : The history of the Forest of Exmoor
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Source Number : 15
Source : Worth's Dartmoor
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Source Number : 16
Source : VIRTUAL CATALOGUE ENTRY TO SUPPORT NAR MIGRATION
Source details : Tarr Steps on site information board
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Source Number : 17
Source : Field Investigators Comments
Source details : Chapman HP 26-JAN-1995 RCHME Field Investigation
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Source Number : 18
Source : Scheduled Monument Notification
Source details : 22-Jun-04
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Source Number : 3
Source : Ancient monuments in England and Wales : list prepared by the Ministry of Works, corrected to 31st December 1960
Source details : AMs Eng & Wales (MOW) 1961 84
Page(s) : 84
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Source Number : 4
Source : VIRTUAL CATALOGUE ENTRY TO SUPPORT NAR MIGRATION
Source details : Exmoor Wonderings, 1963 20-1 (R Delderfield)
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Source Number : 5
Source : Field Investigators Comments
Source details : F1 GHP 20-AUG-65
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Source Number : 6
Source : List of Buildings of Special Architectural or Historic Interest
Source details : DOE (HHR) Dulverton RD Somer Sept 1955 12
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Source Number : 7
Source : Somerset archaeology and natural history : the proceedings of the Somersetshire Archaeological and Natural History Society
Source details :
Page(s) : 6
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Vol(s) : 91, 1945
Source Number : 8
Source : Somerset archaeology and natural history : the proceedings of the Somersetshire Archaeological and Natural History Society
Source details :
Page(s) : Dec-13
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Vol(s) : 93, 1947
Source Number : 9
Source : Somerset archaeology and natural history : the proceedings of the Somersetshire Archaeological and Natural History Society
Source details :
Page(s) : 159-161
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Vol(s) : 94, 1948
Source Number : 10
Source : VIRTUAL CATALOGUE ENTRY TO SUPPORT NAR MIGRATION
Source details : Somer Reg Survey 1934 (W H Thompson)
Page(s) : 57
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Monument Types:
Monument Period Name : Medieval
Display Date : Medieval
Monument End Date : 1540
Monument Start Date : 1066
Monument Type : Clapper Bridge
Evidence : Structure

Components and Objects:
Related Records from other datasets:
External Cross Reference Source : SMR Number (Somerset)
External Cross Reference Number : 34593
External Cross Reference Notes :
External Cross Reference Source : Scheduled Monument Legacy (County No.)
External Cross Reference Number : SO 34
External Cross Reference Notes :
External Cross Reference Source : Scheduled Monument Legacy (National No.)
External Cross Reference Number : 35719
External Cross Reference Notes :
External Cross Reference Source : Listed Building List Entry Legacy Uid
External Cross Reference Number : 265577
External Cross Reference Notes :
External Cross Reference Source : National Monuments Record Number
External Cross Reference Number : SS 83 SE 1
External Cross Reference Notes :

Related Warden Records :
Related Activities :
Associated Activities : Primary, FIELD OBSERVATION ON SS 83 SE 1
Activity type : FIELD OBSERVATION (VISUAL ASSESSMENT)
Start Date : 1965-08-20
End Date : 1965-08-20
Associated Activities : Primary, RCHME: WEST EXMOOR PROJECT
Activity type : MEASURED SURVEY
Start Date : 1993-01-01
End Date : 1996-12-31
Associated Activities : Primary, THE TARR STEPS
Activity type : MANAGEMENT SURVEY
Start Date : 2013-01-01
End Date : 2013-12-31